Working With Watermarks In PDF Files

Using watermarks in PDF files is a way to secure or identify specific set of documents.  In many instances, it ensures that the wrong documents will not end up in the wrong hands.  A watermark is text or an image that appears either in front of or behind existing document content, like a stamp. For example, you could apply a “Confidential” watermark to pages with sensitive information. You can add multiple watermarks to one or more PDFs, but you must add each watermark separately. You can specify the page or range of pages on which each watermark appears.

I had an issue come up recently where our legal staff needed some guidance on how to work with watermarks in PDF files they were turning over in discovery.  They wanted a watermark that would not be recognized text or become a hit when searched.  They wanted the defendant’s name to be on the watermark but they did not want it to always show up as a hit when searched.

The first thing is to make the watermark an image file instead of a text file.

First, to create the image file:

  • Go to Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Type the name of the defendant (or whatever text you want to use on the watermark)
  • Save the PowerPoint slide as a JPEG file

watermarks

Once the image file has been created, to use it as the watermark:

  • Open the PDF file in Adobe Acrobat
  • Select EDIT PDF option
  • Click on Watermark
  • Select ADD
  • For the SOURCE, click on the FILE option
  • Click on BROWSE and locate the image file you created
  • For Location:  Click on option to Appear Behind Page so the watermark will not be on top of the text.
  • Click OK button
  • Save the file

The next obstacle thrown at me was the question of NOT showing the watermark on the screen but only when it was printed out.

Easy fix.

  • Go back to the watermark section under EDIT PDF
  • Select UPDATE
  • Now click on the Appearance Options link
  • Check the option to Show when printing
  • Un-check the option to Show when displaying on screen
  • Click OK button
  • Click OK button again
  • Save the file

Once you have created a watermark, you aren’t stuck with it.  You can go in and edit it or change it.  There are also many ways you can work with watermarks.  For more information on how to work with watermarks in PDF files, a simple Google search will put you in touch with the information.

 

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Litigation Support Resolutions For 2018

newyearHere we are…the holidays are over and my office is slowly rolling into the new year. I have caught myself saying that it is a different year but the same circus. Yes, I have done this a long time. I won’t say I’m the best at my job but I know what I’m doing on most days. So as people make their New Year’s Resolutions of losing weight or to stop smoking, here are some of my resolutions for litigation support this year:

  1. Be more flexible. I don’t know why it often hits me wrong when emergencies happen or someone needs something at the last minute. It will happen. You know that saying “Failure to plan on your part does not make it an emergency on my part”?   Yeah, that doesn’t apply in this job.   It doesn’t matter how many policies are in place or what you do, things will happen and the stressful parts of the job will happen. A judge won’t be happy with the technology or a paralegal will forget how to rotate an image in TrialDirector during court. Although I need to expect the unexpected I just need to handle it better.
  2. Conduct more training. Instead of limping through the year and putting out fires when people have issues with litigation technology, I need arrange more training to help the staff increase their knowledge. Training people will only make my job easier.  Some people like to protect their knowledge like we are a magician or something.  Although we ARE magicians, there is nothing wrong with sharing what we know.  We can’t do it all although we try to do it all.
  3. Upgrade old technology. Sometimes we just settle in our comfort zone with our technology.  Doing things because we’ve always done them isn’t a good motto to have in this job.  We must constantly seek out new and improved ways to get things done.  The old technology is – well – old.  It needs to be replaced.  Believe me, people will fight change but sometimes you have to give them a gentle nudge.  We have two pieces of equipment in our office, one is a newer model than the other; however, people use the older one because “it’s the machine everyone uses.”   Nope.  We’ve got to move past that mentality.
  4. Use the word “NO” more often.  I’m sure we are all guilty of this.  We don’t like to say “no” to the people we support.  I have learned to say it more over the past several years but I look back and see that I still need to do better about it.  That doesn’t mean I won’t help people out but if people want quality work, we have to say “no” to other things especially if it isn’t our job.  Now, I know we hate to say “it’s not my job” but I think it’s time we make people do their jobs instead of enabling people to assume we are going to do it if the slackers won’t.  Saying “no” to things isn’t being mean, it’s being smarter in managing our workload.
  5. Be open to new opportunities. If you have done this job for as long as I have, you have to realize that you won’t be doing it forever.  It’s probably good to start preparing for your exit to another career or whatever you are going to do after this chapter of your life is over.  How will our current skills transition to something else?  Do we need to take classes?  It’s a good time to look at the new opportunities ahead and prepare for them.   If you are just starting out in this job, you should set your goals and work your way to achieving them.  It may not be this year but you need to put yourself in position for when that opportunity comes.

So here we go charging into another year.  We are facing new data to process, trials to prepare for and other challenges in litigation technology.  I will say that this is a unique career field and it can take you wherever you want to go but you also need to make time to have a life.  A former colleague of mine once said that you weren’t doing your job if you weren’t working at least 50 hours a week.  Sad to say that he passed away several years ago.  Now what?  Not to be negative but the reality is that when we are gone, they will just hire someone to replace us.  This job shouldn’t be your life.  It’s rewarding and sometimes exciting but it’s not the main thing.  Make 2018 a good one!

Litigation Support 911

Image-1Have you ever received one of those “crisis” phone calls? Your attorney or paralegal is having a “crisis” in the courtroom? Most of the time when this has happened to me, I have little or no information to prepare myself for whatever crisis I am walking into. Is it a software problem? Could there something be wrong with the equipment? Is it a cabling issue?

On my last “crisis” phone call, I was summoned into a hearing room.  I waited until I was allowed to enter then walked in, plugged in the VGA cable to the laptop and all was well.  Believe me, it’s not always that easy.

We sometimes go into the courtroom or location of the crisis blindly. Quite often, we have to do something quickly or with very little interruption of the court proceedings that are going on in the midst of the crisis. We have to work behind the scenes. It can be quite stressful but unfortunately this is part of the job.

So what are some basic troubleshooting steps to follow when you are going into a “crisis” blindly?

  1. Is the power on?  Believe it or not this most common thing can be overlooked.  Make sure that the power is on or plugged in.  Sometimes the equipment is plugged into a power adapter or strip which has a separate power on/off button of its own.
  2. Check all cable connections.  Sometimes either the cable is not seated properly or has come loose in the activity.
  3. Ensure user has proper resolution.  This a common issue.  The laptop has to match the resolution of the projector.  You may have to play around with this.  In some instances, I have had to adjust the refresh rate which is buried in the advanced settings.  Also, it can be a issue to send the signal to the projector by toggling.  For Windows computers, pressing the Windows key + P will get you there quickly for this adjustment.
  4. Reboot the computer.  Yeah, I never like this to be the answer but sometimes it is necessary.  Waiting on a computer to power up in the courtroom seems to take a lot longer than it usually does.

Don’t go in empty-handed. It is a good idea to have a small bag with items which can commonly resolve issues. The emergency kit should include items such as:

  • Cables – depending on the type of equipment you use.  For video, VGA, HDMI or Display Port cables.  Audio cables for any audio issues including a stereo jack adapter.
  • Gender changers – If you are working with VGA cables, it’s a good idea to have a couple of these in case you need to extend a connection or change cables.
  • Power adapter – I’m referring to both the power adapter for the laptop and power strip where you can plug in other devices.  Attorneys sometimes forget the laptop power adapter especially if they are used to working with docking stations.
  • Speakers – A good portable set of speakers is a good idea to have in case your trial team is having issues with audio.  Although most courts have their own sound systems that you can connect to, if it isn’t working or loud enough they will put it on you to fix it.    The easiest thing most don’t think of is to simply bend down the table microphone to the laptop speakers in a pinch.

Of course it isn’t possible to be ready for everything. I was once asked the question: “What if things go awry?” My response was: “Then things go awry.” There is no way you can fix everything. Quite often I have had to wait until a break in court so I could resolve an issue. It’s also a good idea (if allowed) if the user can text message you from the courtroom. This has helped me on numerous occasions. I have either been able to respond with a fix for the problem or I have time to research the issue and respond with the appropriate fix for the problem.

One thing that helps you with these “crisis” situations is simply experience. I have been doing this for a long time so I have encountered many different problems and glitches that occur. During this time, I have learned what works and what doesn’t work. It is also helpful to be familiar with the setup of each courtroom because not all courtrooms are set up the same or wired the same. Recently, we encountered an issue with the display resolution in connecting with the court’s projector. The issue turned out to be that the court’s VGA cable did not have 15-pins. This really screwed up the display. So, you really have to become educated on the way each courtroom is designed for the technology. Even something as simple as playing a DVD in the court’s DVD player can throw the attorney for a loop. Believe me – it happens.

The important thing in every “crisis” situation is to remain calm and focus on fixing the problem. Yes, sometimes the attorney or the judge may express their impatience with you.  It happens.  You have to keep your cool during these crisis moments and keep your mind searching for the solution to the problem.  During one time I was in the “hot seat” running the courtroom presentation, the judge was upset that it was taking too long for the computer to display color documents.  I immediately directed the attorney to put the paper documents on the document camera until I would resolve the problem.  You just have to make quick decisions to buy you some time.

Emergencies are going to happen.  It’s just the nature of the job.  Our people expect us to fix it.  Use every situation as a learning experience and prepare for it that situation happens again.  It is also a good idea to talk to the trial team after a trial to find out what worked and what didn’t work so that you can be proactive for the next trial.

In the end, you just do your best and do what you can do.  If you can’t fix something, don’t take it personally.  Just resolve to build on your experience with each crisis.

Litigation Support Specialists (probably) Save The World

I have spent a majority of my career in the litigation technology career field.  There have been a lot of changes since I started in this very unique area of technology.  There are so many aspects to this job.  One day it is trial presentation technology.  Another day it is correcting problems with load files and getting them to work in a document management system.  It is a constantly changing world for us.

One of the things I have learned about this line of work is that there will always be people who will have more knowledge than me.  In the beginning, I have to be honest and say that I wanted to be a “star” among my colleagues.  I became the go-to person that others could call on.  I volunteered to teach classes and spent time on committees and planning conferences.   There was an early pioneer of the field who once said if you weren’t working 55-60 hours a week then you weren’t doing your job.  I tried that and found that all I got was more work.  It was a trap door of “what have you done for me lately” life of going from one thing to another.

My personal life at the time only added to that need for stardom.  The breaking point came when I was in a committee meeting and another member on the committee totally destroyed any ideas I brought to the table.  That person was a new rising star in litigation support and it was clear my own star was burning out.  I have to evaluate my life and see what was really important to me.

In recent years I have learned to only do what I can do and leave work at work.  That 55-60 hour work week is dumb.  Get a life outside the office.  In fact, the pioneer who said that passed away a few years ago.  I often wonder if that mentality was the cause.  I hate to break this to you but if you work those hours, when you die they will just hire someone else.  That’s just how it is.  There will always be someone else they can step in that can do the job better than you.

You and I might be called on to save a trial but it isn’t saving the world.  We are good at what we do but we also need to share the knowledge.  This isn’t magic where we can’t share our secrets.  It’s actually to our benefit to share what we know.  While there will always be those who know more, it benefits the whole litigation support community when we exchange our knowledge.  I have had people to ask me how did I learn some things and I tell them it has usually been due to my experience.  Getting in a jam and having to figure out a solution or being yelled at by a judge in the courtroom.  In our field, there is no degree from a college or technical school.  We have learned by doing and networking with others in our community.

In my opinion, there is no room for arrogance.  Unfortunately, I see this trend increasing within our own ranks.  We all need help with something so it’s good not to burn those bridges.  I have called people only because I valued their knowledge only to be looked down upon because I either didn’t know the information or I wasn’t in their secret group.  There is no need for this kind of behavior.   I have learned invaluable advice from my colleagues in this field over the years.  I wouldn’t have gotten this far without that help.

Here’s some advice I would offer from my own perspective:

  • Those who want to be stars will eventually flame out
  • Someone will always know more than you
  • Do what you can do and do it well
  • Share the knowledge
  • Get a life outside of the office

We are all good at what we do or we wouldn’t be doing it.  We all are strong in some areas and weak in others.  Our job is to assist the legal staff with using technology.  We aren’t competing against each other.  If a colleague calls upon you for advice, don’t be condescending but feel good that they have confidence in you.  Contribute to the community and your fellow litigation support colleagues.  Help others in their quests to save their world.

Name That CODEC

It happens pretty frequently that someone in the legal staff will encounter issues when attempting to play an audio or video file.  They will come to me asking why the file won’t play.  If they are trying to use Windows Media Player, the error message will usually be:

codec1

I will try to attempt an explanation on what a CODEC is and why they need it but their eyes quickly gloss over.  They don’t really care what it is, they just know that it isn’t playing and they want you to fix it.

So what exactly is a CODEC?

A CODEC is a file that codes or decodes audio and video files such as MP3, WMA, WAV, etc.  In other words, the file format needs this CODEC file to translate the transmission of audio or video.  Yeah, I know, I can’t say for sure that I still understand it or can dummy it down to explain it to my attorney.

So how to you know what CODECs are needed?

I usually try to play the file on different computers.  When I am able to get the file to play, I then compare the CODECs.  For Windows Media Player, you can do this by going to the “About Windows Media Player” and click on the link for Technical Support Information:

codec2

Then you will scroll down to the list of audio and video CODECs on the file:

codec3

So now you can print this out and take it with you to the computer that does not have the CODEC.

Another nifty thing you can do to identify the CODEC if you have TrialDirector is to run a command at your command prompt:

“C:\Program Files (x86)\inData Corporation\TrialDirector 6\TrialDirector6.exe” graphedit

This command will open up a window then you drag your file into the window:

codec4

So what if you can’t play the file to compare the CODECS?  How can you identify the missing CODEC?

If you can’t play the file anywhere in your office then you will need to download a third party software to find out what’s missing.  There is a freeware called GSpot that can help with this.   GSpot is a Windows-based freeware program designed to identify the codecs.  Of course, as always, be careful when you download any freeware programs.

Another alternative to using Windows Media Player is using a program called VLC which is a media player that is a free and open-source, portable and cross-platform media player.  Many times VLC will play files that Windows Media Player will not.

If you have worked in litigation support any length of time, you already know that sometimes you need to find more than one software or solution to programs we encounter in the legal world.  Many times it isn’t a quick and easy solution and in a world of digital audio and video files, it can be challenging.  Networking with other litigation support professionals is important as well.  If you have any solutions that work for you, please share in the comments.

 

 

Common Litigation Support Issues

Digital-Age-1024x710I have been in the Litigation Support career field for the past 21 years and I have seen just about every type of technology issue and glitch possible with new ones occasionally popping up to test my abilities.  Litigation Technology has changed during this time and the problems I encounter change with the technology.  In this blog, I have come up with a few tips and tricks I have learned along the way:

  • “How do I play this?”
    • This is the most asked question I get now from the legal staff in regards to audio/video they receive.  When I first started, you had tapes.  With tapes, you knew what they were and how to play them.  Today, you get a disc or flash drive with audio and video files on them.  Usually, these files are not in a standard format so I have to figure out how to use third-party players to play them or download the correct (and approved) CODECs for the staff to review the media.  One of my constant “sermons” to the attorneys is to bring their attention to thinking of how they expect a jury to review the audio/video.  Many times they don’t think of this until the jury is deliberating and have to play the files.
  • Encrypting Discovery
    • This is a painful but necessary process for us now.  We have to be cautious of sending data out and safeguards to protect the information from accidentally getting in the wrong hands.  I have to tell folks not to include the password ON the media they send it because that kinda defeats the whole purpose in securing the data.  It is also a challenge when our encryption software doesn’t work for opposing counsel when they have McIntosh systems or some other issues which block their access to the data due to the encryption software we use.   We have to navigate around this very carefully.
  • Sound Problems In The Courtroom
    • Routinely I have paralegals reporting that they are experiencing feedback or other sound issues in the courtroom when connecting their laptops.  Court reporters will be the first ones to fuss about this problem and rightly so.  Any audio feedback inhibits their ability to do their jobs in capturing every word said in court.  Two things usually resolve this problem.  First, simply plug in the audio cable into the headphone jack of the laptop even if you aren’t using sound.  Leaving the audio cable loose or hanging free will cause some interference.   Second, plug an AC adapter to the power cord on the laptop.  In most cases, the power is too close to the audio ports and using the adapter adjusts the power so that it muffles the interference.
  • Processing Data
    • It’s always good to be on the front end when attorneys request data.  Doing so can save time and complications by ensuring you get the data in the correct format or simply know what’s coming so you can be prepared.   I have had people hand me SATA hard drives and ask me to review it.   Seriously?  A SATA hard drive?  I might as well be the Great Carnac.  It is essential that we enforce our Electronic Discovery policy so that we can avoid receiving a data dump.  E-Discovery is no longer something new and foreign anymore.  I am quite strict on people following our E-Discovery specs.  When I receive something, if it doesn’t meet our specs I return it.  You can only do this if you have a policy in place and communicate this to the staff.
  • “I have a hearing in 15-minutes….”
    • Yeah, this is something I don’t think we will ever avoid.  We have courtrooms that have absolutely no presentation technology so at times I will get this phone call from an attorney needing to play audio or video at a hearing.  I always wonder how these hearings pop up at the last minute but, as we all know, it does no good to complain about it.  We have to act and get it done.  It is very important to anticipate these situations and have equipment ready to roll.  In fact, I have a “mobility cart” nearby that is wired with a short-throw project and speakers that can be rolled to any courtroom at a moment’s notice.  Every office has those “last-minute” people so it’s good to know that when the time comes, you can respond.
  • Be open to new technology
    • If you are like me, you support people who can be resist to new technology.   We can’t be like that.  We must be willing to try new things that will make the work of our legal staff more efficient.  When we find something that works, we must sell it and be excited about it.  Recently, I was able to get an iPAD with TrialDirector and introduced it to the staff.  People have been resistant but once one or two paralegals have used it in court, they always want to use it now.

Okay, this isn’t an exhaustive list but a few things that are common and some things I have learned to deal with them.   Litigation Technology is constantly changing.  Advancements continue to be made so we have to stay on the leading edge of the technology to ensure our attorneys and legal support staff have the tools that will make them successful.  That’s also a huge thing to keep in mind.  I have met others who want to create some kind of competition with other offices or agencies.  A good litigation support or litigation technology specialist will keep their focus on the people they support and not get involved in some sort of technology arms race with other litigation support professionals.  We have to get the job done for the people who are in the front lines in our office.

One saying that I think is a good one to live by as a litigation support professional is:  “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”

Working With .VOB Files

In the various video file formats I have to work with in litigation, one of the most common are .VOB files.  A .VOB file is the container format in DVD-Video media files.  VOB (Video Object) files can contain digital video, digital audio, subtitles, DVD menus and navigation contents which are put together to stream the content of a DVD.

VOB
This is what a DVD-format video file looks like.

 

If you have a DVD and just want to play it, you will never need to know about .VOB files but when you have to convert it or capture clips from it you will need to find a way to do this.  Sometimes you can just simply play a .VOB file in Windows Media Player or Videolan (VLC) player separately.  There are times when you can simply change the file extension from .VOB to .MPG and it will work the same but it doesn’t always work depending on how the file is coded.  Although a VOB file is essentially an MPEG file, it could have additional data that might be needed.

Perhaps the safest way to convert a .VOB file is to use a video conversion program.  I sometimes use AnyVideoConverter.  Doing so will ensure you can keep it seamlessly and not risk losing any important information or any loss in quality.

If you need to convert a DVD to play in TrialDirector, there is a nifty program included which will make life easier.   It is called the inData Digital Video Disc (DVD) Extractor.  It is very easy to use and can export the output to MPEG-1 and MPEG-2.  This is a useful tool if your attorney hands you a DVD to put into TrialDirector.  This utility will extract the DVD format into a more user friendly form for TrialDirector.

DVDextractor
inData’s DVD Extractor utility helps convert DVD format to MPEG.

With an video conversion, you must always use caution that you aren’t altering the video file or degrading it in any way.  There have been some instances when I have converted a VOB file only to discover that the video and audio did not match up or the time code was missing or different than when the legal team reviewed the original DVD.  Also, you have to stress to the legal team to provide you with the video files with ample notice as sometimes conversion doesn’t always happen instantly.